The Godfather (1972) is a crime film about a Mafia family in New York during the years after The Second World War. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made and, as such, has been analysed repeatedly and in depth for its undeniable success in storytelling and its influence on the Mafia genre. No film is perfect, however, and it seems that the many faults that this film has are often left untouched, to the detriment of the filmmakers and enthusiasts who would benefit from exploring them.
Arguably the most important aspect of The Godfather’s plot is the transition of Michael (Al Pacino) from outsider to head of the Corleone family. It seems, however, that a lack of focus on this character arc, especially in the first hour of the film, hinders its efficacy. Michael’s changing romantic relationships are central to this transition but seem incredibly underdeveloped — given their importance — to the point that a whole relationship is introduced, developed, and ended dramatically in the middle of the film with no clear purpose or consequences for the plot or characters.
Similarly, changes in Michael’s relationship with the family business happen suddenly and little time is dedicated to exploring how these changes are affecting him internally. As you may expect, characters in The Godfather are played with a cool detached aura, which fits the archetypal mafia persona. Coppola’s unwillingness to have his characters break away from this, however, means that after three hours, much of the sense of mystery and intensity that this originally creates is lost and the audience lacks meaningful investment in the characters. Additionally, it must be said that Marlon Brando’s restrained performance, which seems to be a consequence of his facial make up as much as the writing/direction, seriously underutilised his abilities as an expressive and dynamic actor.
In addition to this, there seems to be very little use of visually striking cinematography or an impressive soundtrack, despite its length and variety of location warranting it. This is with the exception of the Christening scene, in which a mix of visual storytelling and intricate sound design create a tense and engaging sequence, in a way that is disappointingly lacking from the rest of the film. There are multiple other moments, such as the hospital scene, which would have benefitted from a similar use of sound as visuals to create tension, but actually leave the audience underwhelmed. The Godfather is not a bad film because of these things, though they do show that any claims about the film’s perfection are perhaps misguided. It is a complex film that sometimes seems to falter because of it.
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